Fyffe House due to reopen after extensive ‘horsehair’ repairs

Fyffe House in Kaikōura is reopening for the spring, welcoming visitors into a freshly replastered interior.

Fyffe House plaster repairs
Mike Jackson replastering an upstairs room at Fyffe Houseexpand/collapse

In recent years, the lathe and plaster walls in the upstairs of rooms of Fyffe Cottage have been peeling and breaking down. The damage was not, as you might suspect, earthquake related. Rather, a 1980s repair job using modern paint trapped moisture in the plaster. The paint peeled and sections of the plaster detached from the wooden lathes.

In May 2021, Mike Jackson was brought in for exploratory investigation. Mike has over 30 years’ experience in the United Kingdom and New Zealand in restoring historic plaster and sod. He is an expert in understanding how historic walls need moisture to survive. Non-hydraulic lime-based materials must be used so that the walls can breathe naturally.

In the past few months Mike has used traditional methods of lime plastering to repair Fyffe House.

Sourcing the ingredients for the plaster has required some ingenuity from property lead Ann McCaw. “Mike was short on horsehair, so I had to cut two inches off each of my horses’ tails and scrape out body hair from their covers”.  

Ann also had to find a small dollop of fresh organic cow manure for Mike to make a tincture. “Mike used this tincture to inhibit a yellow stain that kept appearing through the lime by the window in the middle bedroom. He thought it was likely a tobacco stain from past inhabitants standing by the window to smoke their pipes” says Ann.

Mike manually removed the paint from the walls using a scraper and removed damaged plaster from the lathe. Traditional plaster has been reapplied, reset, and painted with a traditional lime wash.

Now that repairs are complete, Fyffe House is looking lovely and is ready for spring visitors.

 - Rosemary Baird